Mobile Money is probably the most common tech-narrative in the Ugandan the tech startup space. Unfortunately, the reluctancy of stake holders to upgrade it from a product to a technology will make it useless before we realise its ultimate potential.
The vision of mobile money that we dream of, is having people send & receive money amongst each other exclusively using 4 digit PINs and SIM Cards for authentication/identification of users.
The big plus of this design besides the convenience of having a bank in your pocket, is the better security as attackers need both physical access to the SIM card & the Mobile Money PIN to pull off a successful attack & this provides Mobile Money accounts 2 factor Authentication by design.
Mobile Money has robust security design that is often over looked, unlike banking web portals where someone only needs to glance at your username & password or take a picture of your debit/credit, so they can comfortably clear out your bank balance from an obscure remote location.
The second benefit of mobile money’s design is that through interfaces like USSD it is possible for people to access and actively use funds without the need of a smart phone or an internet connection.
From a product to a technology
Mobile Money currently exists as solo spin-off products offered by distinctive telecommunication companies. For instance, MTN has MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Has Airtel Money and UTL has M-Sente. The major limitation of these products is one thing, vendor lock-in. These different products cannot talk to each other.
Each mobile money provider only allows payments to happen within their network. For instance an MTN subscriber (MTN Mobile Money) cannot send money to a UTL subscriber(M-Sente).
This lack of interoperability is a wall that kills a lot use cases & leaves us open to outrageous regulation and rent seekers trying to “solve” this problem.
What I mean by upgrading Mobile Money from a product to a technology is that stake holders from telecom companies to banks, lawyers, & businesses should form a coalition (Mobile Money Consortium or M2C for short).
The focus of this coalition is to work on a formal spec analogous to what W3C is for the web, only that M2C will be tasked with creating formal specifications on Mobile Money interoperability.
I have come to the opinion that all startups building products on the currently siloed Mobile Money products are building a business on sand.
For the current products like Airtel Money, M-Sente, MTN Mobile Money, you are limited by what the cooperations think is possible and good for them. If these products are to upgrade to a technology, then they need to build work groups & achieve interoperability so entrepreneurs can implement any use case they can imagine.
If such an initiative is taken seriously, and a large enough number of countries adopt it, Mobile Money has the potential to become the SWIFT of Africa. (in my context SWIFT & the web are a technology not a product)
And as a result people like Hikmet Ersek can be successfully put out of the business of stealing money from diaspora’s.